November 17, 2006
Guided by the Vincentian values of St. John’s University to seek
out the causes of and find effective solutions for social problems,
St. John’s School of Law’s Child Advocacy Clinic hosted a Child
Welfare Symposium titled “Race, Culture, Class and Crisis in Child
Welfare: Theory into Practice” on November 17, in the Belson Moot
Courtroom on the Queens campus.
Experts in the field of child welfare gathered for the day-long
event to raise awareness of the impact that race, culture and class
have on child welfare, and to explore alternatives for improving
the current child welfare system in the United States. The
panelists discussed how lack of understanding of cultural
differences; language barriers; and racism harm children in the
system and explored how denial of these issues can worsen a child’s
experience of the system.
Because of its diverse population, New York’s child welfare
system is more susceptible to these conditions than child welfare
systems in other parts of the United States. Professor Theresa
Hughes, Director of the Child Advocacy Clinic, touched on this
important point and the significance of hosting the conference at
St. John’s when she said: “We stand in the most culturally diverse
place on the planet – Queens County, New York.”
Using a slideshow to share the thoughts of children who have
been in and out of foster homes, Professor Hughes stressed the
importance of giving children a voice and listening to their needs.
“We want to know our parents,” “They put me down,” “Young and
Hispanic – they use that against me” were just some of the
children’s feelings flashing on a screen.
Internationally known children’s rights activist Dr. Barbara
Bennett Woodhouse, David H. Levin Chair in Family Law; Director,
Center on Children and Families and Co-Director, UF Institute for
Child & Adolescent Research and Evaluation, told stories of
failure within the system and shared her ideas for preventing abuse
by improving the children’s home life, rather than intervening only
when abuse has happened.
During afternoon panel discussions, Kevin Ryan, Commissioner of
the New Jersey Department of Children and Families, reiterated Dr.
Woodhouse’s sentiments, adding the importance of a coordinated
community response to improving the system. John Mattingly,
Commissioner of the New York City Administration for Children’s
Services, offered his idea that rather than pointing blame, child
welfare officials must improve decision making in the system by
using statistics to guide key decisions.
Throughout the day, experts on child welfare shared their views
and learned from one another. Some cited examples, many
offered suggestions for improvement. Elaine M. Chiu, Associate
Professor of Law at St. John’s spoke of feeling both hopeless and
hopeful in her closing remarks---hopeless when realizing the
enormity of the problem, hopeful that there are so many people
working hard to fix it and who truly care about the welfare of
For more information, please contact Elizabeth Reilly, Assistant
Director of Media Relations at St. John’s University at (718)
990-5789, or e-mail inquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.